PHOENIX — The general managers’ meetings ended Friday as they began, with Diamondbacks big name and big bopper Justin Upton available but unmoved.
D-backs GM Kevin Towers has yet to find a deal he cannot refuse, although that does not mean seeds were not sown in Indians Wells, Calif.
Arizona president/CEO Derrick Hall said it is too early to set odds on Upton returning next season, but he does feel Upton is not fazed by the market speculation.
“The great thing about Justin is, he has been through this now for a couple of years and he really expects it,” Hall said at the D-backs’ celebrity golf tournament at Whirlwind Golf Club on Friday to raise money for the military.
“If nothing happens and he is still in a Diamondback uniform, he is going to play hard and we’re all going to be fine,” Hall said. “He knows it’s part of the game. He is so mature now compared to when he first entered the league. If this had happened back then, maybe he would react differently, but he handles it so well. It’s not an issue.
“And it’s not like we’re shopping him. I think what happens is, if opposing GMs say to Kevin or anyone on our staff, ‘Would you be willing to talk about Justin?’ and we say ‘yes,’ then to the media it is, ‘They are willing to trade Upton,’ and there it goes — it spirals out of control.
“Kevin is only going to move him if we are blown away by an offer or if we see we genuinely and measurably improve. We’re in no rush to do anything.”
During the final week of the regular season, Upton — who is owed a reasonable total of $38.5 million through 2015 — was asked if he would be shocked by a trade.
“I don’t think ‘shocked’ is the word,” Upton said, acknowledging the outfield depth that remains even after the trade of Chris Young to Oakland.
“It would definitely be different. It would be a change. It’s tough to play one place your entire career. It just doesn’t happen these days very often. You just have to look at it in a positive light. You look at the good young players we have here. It’s just a crossroads where we are at, and we’ll see what happens.”
There appear to be several realistic landing spots if the D-backs do pull the trigger in their search for a shortstop, a third baseman, a starting pitcher and/or a left-handed relief specialist.
The most likely:
The Rangers are always the first team mentioned when talk turns to Upton because of their excess at shortstop and third base, where top prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt are blocked, at least for the time being, by Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre. The Rangers control both Profar and Olt for six more years, so they are less likely to be moved. Andrus is more available, but a more perilous get, because of his contract status.
One of the centerpieces of the Mark Teixeira trade in 2008, Andrus has two years remaining at a very affordable $11.3 million. But after that? Andrus is represented by super agent Scott Boras, a friend of the free market, and if history is a guide, Andrus will test free agency after 2014 no matter what kind of long-term deal the D-backs might propose in the interim. Stephen Drew turned down a $10 million mutual option two weeks ago, after all.
The Rangers are looking to add a bat due to the likely loss of Josh Hamilton to free agency. Olt, who showed big-time power in the Arizona Fall League last year, would answer the D-backs’ need at third base for the long term, and Beltre is locked up through 2015. A deal for Olt and a frontline starting pitcher might make more sense in the long run.
Would the small-market Rays exchange one Upton for another? B.J. Upton declined the Rays’ qualifying contract offer Friday, officially making himself a free agent. His loss deprives the Rays of their most productive bat from 2012. B.J.’s OPS was only .752, but he had 28 home runs, 78 RBIs and 31 stolen bases, leading the Rays in homers and steals.
Challenged as they already are offensively, the Rays seemingly must find a power bat in the offseason. Tampa has a top prospect at shortstop, Hak-Ju Lee, and an overabundance of starting pitching, another area the D-backs are targeting.
The more you look at it, the better the fit appears. Top Cy Young candidate David Price and youngsters Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore might be hard to get, but the same cannot be said of James Shields, who with Price has been one of the anchors of the staff the last several seasons. Shields, 30, was 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA last year, but his contract makes him an attractive trade piece. He is owed $9 million in 2013 and $12 million on a 2014 option, both numbers more than reasonable for a top-of-the-rotation innings eater.
And even Price, a 20-game winner, does not appear untouchable. “Rays will shop anybody making money,” one major league talent evaluator said Thursday. Price made $4.35 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2012 and is expected to more than double that this time, with one more season of arbitration after that.
Like the Rangers, the Tigers have a top third-base prospect in Nick Castellanos who is blocked, in this case by MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. With Prince Fielder at first base and Victor Martinez expected to return from an injury as the regular DH next season, it will be difficult for the Tigers to shoehorn Castellanos into the lineup, although he has played some outfield in the Arizona Fall League this year.
A sandwich pick in the 2010 draft, Castellanos was a Florida State League midseason All-Star and played in the Futures Game. Unlike Andrus and Olt, however, Castellanos does not appear to be major league-ready, having played only half of a season above Class A. He will turn 21 in spring training.
Left-hander Phil Coke, who had such a strong playoff run, is the type of situational left-handed reliever the D-backs are looking for.
The Red Sox have had longstanding interest in Upton, and their package at the 2010 winter meetings — with Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard as the principals — was the best the D-backs received, although they are glad they didn’t take it. Upton had his best season in 2011, Ellsbury missed most of the season with an injury and Bard never turned his high-90 mph fastball into a consistent weapon.
The Red Sox have two shortstop prospects in Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias, although scouts believe Boegarts, a native of Aruba, may end up at third base. Boegarts, 20, has played only half of a season above Class A and is at least a year away, so the D-backs would need more to give up Upton. The Red Sox are one of four teams on Upton’s updated no-trade list, along with the Yankees, Indians and Cubs.
NOTES: The D-backs have expressed interest in free-agent reliever Sean Burnett, a left-handed specialist, but Burnett is expected to seek a multi-year deal possibly worth in the $3 million per year range. With specialists so pricey, the D-backs may attempt to get one in a trade rather than on the open market.